Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me at the outset congratulate the organisers of this conference, namely the Royal African Society, the Natural Resources Institute and the IIED, for choosing such a critical topic and for bringing together people who want to help Africans to take their rightful place in the world. I thank you for inviting me to participate in this important conference and meet such distinguished company.
As you are aware, earlier this year in February, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom launched the Commission for Africa (CFA). I am honored to be among the 9 Africans appointed to serve among the 17 Commissioners, and also to be one of the 3 women among the commissioners.
Using Commission findings and recommendations, Mr. Blair has promised the United Kingdom will use its position as Chair of the G8 and of the European Union during 2005 to put Africa high on the international agenda. Mr. Blair calls Africa “a scar on the world’s conscience” and believes it is time for the international donor community to honour its commitments to support Africa to overcome its disadvantaged position in the global economy. At the CFA, we are taking Prime Minister Blair seriously, and working hard to come up with a radical agenda for action, to turn things around in Africa’s favour.
This will be the time to find solutions to the fundamental problems of Africa that include the debt burden, low levels of investment, unfair trading practices and the lack of sufficient aid, not to mention the HIV/AIDS crisis.
So what exactly will the Commission try to achieve, indeed what can it achieve? I am aware that these kinds of questions need to be asked. In fact, I believe that there might even be skepticism about this initiative.
My response is that Africa will find it hard to break out of the vicious circle it finds itself in without supplementing its efforts with international support. Balance and realism require that we exploit every opportunity that raises the profile of the continent and its plight, thereby enhancing the momentum for international action to fulfil past promises and to meet newer targets like the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations.
The Commission provides a forum to hear and to learn what Africans want in these critical areas of concern. I am also entrusted with the task of working on cross cutting issues such areas as gender and youth. A consultation process has been launched to help the commissioners listen to African concerns. This process involves listening to people within and outside the continent and to representatives of the African diaspora around the world who contribute so much through remittances and provide constant support to the continent. In fact, you might say my presence here is part of this ongoing process of consultation, and I thank the organizers for the opportunity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Land is of course a critical factor to the future success of Africa, and it needs to be a key item on the Commissions’ agenda. We must be very frank with ourselves that Africa is still dealing with the legacy of its past. More specifically with colonialism and its accompanying skewed land distribution. This legacy is still contributing to the crisis associated with land in many countries, from Zimbabwe, to South Africa, Namibia, and most recently in Kenya.
We are all familiar with the history of Africa. Large parts were denuded of their populations by the slave trade. The destruction of the empire in the area now known as Angola is a good example of the devastating effects of slavery.
The continent was also carved up by European powers, that was speeded up in the late nineteenth century during what is infamously known as the scramble for Africa. The approach of the colonial powers inevitably involved large scale land alienation from the indigenous population. The best land always came under the ownership of the settler population. Linked to this, the settlers introduced foreign approaches to land tenure using individual land titling systems.
It was a distinguishing feature around the world of all colonies that land registration systems and the cadastre were used to legitimize taking the land away from the indigenous population. The laws that were introduced to do this were often based on what is known as ‘terra nullius’, that is ‘empty earth’. The settlers did not recognize the existing land rights of the indigenous population, but instead created new land rights over the best land to facilitate their own requirements. There are numerous examples throughout Africa of settlers claiming land as their own and registering it in their names despite the fact that there were already indigenous people in occupation on the same piece of land.
It is important to remember that most colonial wars of independence were fought by indigenous populations to reclaim their land. A classic well known example was the Mau Mau movement in Kenya. Less well known was the earlier “Maji Maji” uprising in Tanzania (1901-1905) where colonial settlements were successfully resisted in the Southern highlands of Tanzania, forcing the German colonial government to abandon the alienation of land for white settlements way back in 1905. As a result, despite having some of the best farming high lands in Africa, Tanzania was spared land problems in its vast highland regions especially in the South.
By and large, at independence, one of the legacies with which emerging African governments had to deal with was both the effects of the large scale land alienation and skewed land distribution on the one hand, and the introduction of Eurocentric land tenure systems based on individual titling.
This was one of the biggest challenges that faced Africa’s leaders. In some countries it was dealt with through large scale nationalisation of the land, such as in Mozambique. In other countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya a solution to the colonial and settler legacy was postponed and has still not been dealt with comprehensively. This legacy continues to create a land crisis.
Dealing with the legacy of land restitution, skewed land distribution and both so-called modern and customary systems which over lap and undermine security of tenure, cannot be delayed any longer in Africa. It is the responsibility of both the international community as well as African leaders themselves to address this issue. The political will for this is needed now.
All too often, African leaders who came to power did not address the land reform issue head on nor did they deal with it comprehensively. Too often African leaders have not had the political will to confront their new elites who acquired the land from the settlers and who used the colonial land registration system to protect their new land rights. Too often, African leaders were seduced away from their original agendas and chose to forget about the poor and landless.
Unfortunately, this meant passing on the problem to be dealt with by future generations. The problem is even more critical as the populations in sub-Saharan Africa are expanding fast and there is more and more pressure on the land. With more and more landless people coming to the cities, resulting in the urbanisation of poverty, a solution has to be found soon. We cannot delay anymore.
However, to implement large scale land reform, African leaders will need the support and trust of the international community. In the past we have seen international organisations pull back from agreements because the first step did not go according to plan. And here I am referring to Zimbabwe. Experience in Zimbabwe with land has had reverberations around the continent.
The problems associated with the supply of funding for land reform, where the land was not redistributed to ordinary people but instead to elites, such as early on in Zimbabwe, has also affected the options for settling the land question in Uganda, in regard to, for instance, the Bunyoro. At the same time, fast track land reform, as the Zimbabwe approach is now known, has caused excitement among the poor in many countries like South Africa and Namibia. Clearly concerted action is needed to avoid the Zimbabwe tragedy, especially as across Africa, landless peasants and herdsmen, are agitating for the same.
It is now a general principle among donors, that money should not be made available for land compensation because of these past experiences. Today, we have to find ways of restoring the confidence of international organisations in providing funds for land reform, so that land restitution and land redistribution can be undertaken and the land crisis comprehensively addressed. This is one of the most critical steps towards dealing with the land problem in many countries in Africa and towards giving the poor hope, peace and stability.
The other issue that has to be urgently addressed relates to the simultaneous existence of both customary and ‘so-called modern’ or statutory systems of land tenure in most Sub-Saharan countries. The so-called modern emphasis on individual land titling, denies the reality of Africa, where families and groups dominate land tenure, also in informal urban settlements.
To deal with the colonial legacy of the land tenure system we need to alter the laws and regulatory frameworks of countries so that, where and as appropriate, families and groups, rather than just individuals, can also acquire formal land and property rights and secure tenure. Given that African land administration systems have tended to be focused on individual land titles for the middle and commercial classes, new innovative and affordable approaches have to be developed. I understand that a number of African countries have embarked on this exercise. In this regard I would like to just list critical areas of concern to be observed if more appropriate and functional land administration systems are to emerge: